Sam Donnellon: It's no joke, Penn State

Posted: December 05, 2011


Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Before you go all "We Are" on everyone, consider that it could have been worse.

You . . . Me . . .

. . . Detroit.

As late as yesterday afternoon, no less a sage than Jerry Palm of called it a real possibility, that Jerry Sandusky's alleged misdeeds, and a lack of good ones on the part of Joe Paterno and Penn State brass, would flush the Lions' 9-3 season to literally the last Big Ten bowl invite available - The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 27.

So chill a little now that your unfairly bewitched football team heads to Dallas for a Jan. 2 bowl against a Houston team that until Saturday had a single-digit ranking and a chance to play in a BCS bowl.

"For us to get a matchup of that caliber is amazing," TicketCity Bowl CEO Tom Starr told the Allentown Morning Call last night.

"Please tell me the rumors swirling about the Ticket City Bowl are a sick joke," read a tweet attributed to Penn State tight end Mike Yancich before the matchup was announced.

No joke, Mike. Sick perhaps, joke no.

By record and rights, Penn State should be in the more established Gator Bowl, or the Insight Bowl, or the more prestigious Meineke Car Care Bowl.

You want humor Mike? There, you have it.

I can't believe I just typed those names.

Because nobody in their right mind sits down over the days surrounding New Year's Day and ranks these ghoulishly named things, or even remembers who played in what. We remember the games, the moments, and the truth is the Lions have as much a chance of being part of that - maybe more with Houston's dynamic Case Keenum on the other side - than any of those Big Ten teams that unjustly leapfrogged over them, each of whom lost to Penn State this season.

Take the Gator Bowl, where Ohio State will meet Florida in a battle between Urban Meyer's past and future teams.

"That alone gave it that extra sizzle," said Gator spokesman Rick Catlett, who was good enough to call me back last night as the doors closed on his plane.

Catlett said Penn State's scandal had nothing to do with his bowl bypassing the Nits, that it had more to do with Penn State's recent bowl appearances in his state, the familiarity of a matchup with Florida, and finally the Buckeyes' absence from a Florida-based bowl over the last 10 years.

The Meineke Car Care Bowl - MCCB from here on in - has a little harder sell. It chose 6-6 Northwestern over the Lions to play 6-6 Texas A & M, which just fired its coach. Its executive director, Heather Houston, did not respond to an interview request made last night via email, but it should be noted that PSU has met A & M twice in a bowl already, in 2007 and 1999 - Sandusky's final year.

You could understand if they didn't want to relive that.

But really, who cares? If the money was any different, then sure, outrage to your heart's content. The Big Ten, though, splits up its bowl money evenly among members, so the victims of sexual abuse that the PSU administration has pledged this money to will get just as much - about $1.5 million I'm told - whether the Lions played in Orlando, Phoenix or where those other Lions play.

Yeah I know: No one likes insult on top of injury, and the injury just seems to keep coming to loyal alums. As if anyone there needed this, Sandusky's 4-hour sit-down with a New York Times reporter hit all forms of media late last week - you could watch it, hear it and, of course, read all about it - providing another chance for us to shiver at the Hannibal Lecter-ishness of it all, another chance to relive and re-ask, another cause for those who proudly and justly wear the school's acronym under their names to become defensive - and outraged.

I wonder, though, how much of the outrage will be expressed by plane trips and ticket sales and attendance to the aptly named TicketCity Bowl? In its second year, last year's inaugural event between Northwestern and Texas Tech drew 40,128 fans. No doubt its proximity to Tech helped those numbers. No doubt loyal Northwestern alums were happy to go south for any bowl.

Penn State fans are used to heading to Florida or Arizona at this time every year. They are the team that hops over others, not the team with athlete's scalp. A recent story said Penn State merchandise sales were down 40 percent this holiday season.

Will Penn State bowl tickets register such a drop, too? For all the outrage and hurt feelings, you would think so. Who would spend good money and good vacation time to attend an upstart bowl, to spend a big chunk of time talking all over again about Jerry Sandusky and the last few months?

If you said, "Me," well, you have my undying respect.

As for the rest of us? Well, our thinking isn't much different from those bowl directors, is it?

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